Shine a Light: Advancing Progressive Values in Israel this Hanukkah. Night 8—A Jewish & Democratic Miracle
About The Author
Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.
This Hanukkah, ARZA is working to shine a light on several challenges facing progressive Judaism in Israel. We do so with the intention to generate greater understanding, to increase the investment of Reform Jews in the Jewish State, and to center a connection to Israel in our communities. Each night for eight nights, check in with us to learn more about pressing issues and to advocate for equality, pluralism, and democracy in Israel.
Dreidels spun in the Diaspora have four letters: nun, gimel, hey and shin. These stand for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or a great miracle happened there. The same spinning tops in Israel replace the shin with a peh for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Po” or a great miracle happened here. No matter where we as Jews sit down to play this game, it reminds us to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. No less miraculous than the Maccabean uprising or the oil that lasted for eight nights is the founding of the modern State of Israel.
Those alive in 1948 saw a remarkable change in Jewish history when Israel declared its independence. The dream of Theodor Herzl and thousands of Zionist pioneers was finally realized. After centuries marked by pogroms, anti-Semitism, tenuous social status, poverty, and the horrors of the Holocaust, the Jewish people had sovereignty in our ancient homeland. This is not to say that the establishment of the State was unproblematic, and it is certainly not to deny the suffering of Palestinian residents, but it is to say that May 14, 1948 was viewed by Jews around the world as miraculous.
On that day, Israel promised both to serve as a Jewish State and to uphold core democratic values. Its Declaration of Independence reads:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
This balance between Israel’s Jewish identity and its democratic one is essential to maintaining the vision of its founders.
Recent attempts to pass the Nation-State Bill in Israel, which would redefine Israel’s Jewish character as superior to its democratic one, threaten this balance. Some of the statements regarding the bill have been shocking, like when Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Knesset that in Israel there is too much of a focus on civil rights at the expense of the rights of the State. Not only is this claim offensive to the basic principles of any democracy, searching for ways to strip people of their rights is fundamentally un-Jewish as well.
The State of Israel is miraculous because of the principles and values that lay at its core. In order to serve as a light unto the nations for Jews and others, Israel cannot privilege its religious identity over its democratic one. Let’s end this holiday season celebrating Israel, and working toward an equal, pluralistic and democratic homeland that we can celebrate for years to come.